April 25-27, 2015
A lot of 4 letter words describe the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland, I can think of many like: wind, cold, rain, snow, yuck, damp, and unlike the nirvana name Avalon, it could be described more closely as “hell,” but another 4 letter word comes to mind…..bird!
This is the eastern most place in the continent and it is closest to Europe as anywhere and they get rare birds here. I took this little 3 day trip to the farthest point east in North America on a bit of a whim, last year all sorts of rarities blew in, Eurasian golden plovers, black-tailed godwits, a redshank, wheatear, and even a Ross’s Gull, but alas, 2015 was a different year but I came anyways. I needed to do some research.
I need 4 life birds for my milestone of 700, two were on the ground here (or the sea) and another one could be seen and if just one rarity showed BINGO!
The trip in was a bit iffy.. I was freaked out by the restaurant at gate b24 in Toronto having the same name as the myth of the book I was proofing on way in, Fionn MacCool’s, about giants and painted rocks that look like steaks…the gate I was going out of? B24..The border guard couldn’t believe I’d come to Canada to just go birding… I talked my way in and I passed on food and of course my plane was late, and then we could barely land after 3.5 hours because of fog, if we had to abort….back to Toronto we’d go. Luckily it parted and whew…we landed at 0130 AM!
Day #1 was cold, windy, foggy, and then it opened up and rained. I was a short night and I was meeting a local birder, a nice Medical Student named Alvan Buckley, at 1pm so I spent the morning cleaning up the birds I needed. They were easier to find than I suspected.
#697 Tufted Duck
Finding a Tufted Duck here in April is like finding water off the pier, they are everywhere. Mind you this is a code 3 bird and occasionally appears in California and the east coast and Alaska, so they are not on that many birder’s lists but here…80 overwinter, but only in the four ponds around the city, then in May, they are gone. I saw about 50 of them. It was a lifer and a pretty good one I think. They are handsome birds.
I drove to fog bound Cape Spear the easternmost point and the fog cleared and I could see one bird….one I needed…
#698 Black Guillemot
I saw quite a few of these birds about 30 and they are not rare but I have just never birded in the north Atlantic before to see one in North America. It was 10 AM and I had two lifers so I went back to the hotel for breakfast
I met up with Alvan and we scouted around and we found a very early seen Arctic Tern.
Certainly they were blown in by the weather.
There were thick-billed Murres
Day #2 We took off at 6am and stopped for the Canadian Birders Breakfast
Tom Horton’s is what McDonalds is to Canadian birders and they have the best breakfast sandwich for drive thrus but…the coffee is pretty lame IMO. 8 loonies and I can go all day though so that is good
The crazy storm continued. Just liked I hoped and the wind from the east was blowing so things looked perfect to get in some great birds, I was licking my chops and salivating…..and then the birds came…..were they European-Golden Plovers? No…Godwits? No
We had an irruption of ….no better put an invasion of …………..Jaegers!…Jaegers?
Beginning on the 25th, Pomarine Jeagers began to appear. Almost in every eastern bay, and even some over in the city. One at a school, another at the Elks Club, one flew over me in a park
What was going on and why jaegers? They are gorgeous birds and we saw them up close and I’m sure I’ll never see something like this again, at least jaegers. I had never seen them perched on land like they were here and some unfortunately looked beat up, one for sure died and we think another got eaten by an otter. Yes, a river otter…I saw at least 12 myself.
Here is Alvan trying to get a closeup shot on one…the bird is in the water on left
My selfie with one
Then on the next day as they continued… a couple of Parasitic Jaegers showed up in the harbor in St John’s. This wasn’t a life bird but heck…why not go see them? I wasn’t finding anything of note where I was looking. The fields were covered with birds…Herring Gulls and starlings.
We had both a dark morph and a light morph Parasitic Jaeger together and next to two Pomarine jaegers to compare and contrast them to, they are even more Gorgeous birds…slightly smaller and with thinner bills. They looked in pretty good shape.
.The Light Morph flying
All pretty unusual here, especially in numbers like this and up so close. I don’t know what happened to these birds out in the ocean but it must have been rough, some look pretty worse for wear and the storm really didn’t look that bad….IDK, but why no plovers?
We went on this day down to Cape Race Lighthouse and saw fog, we stopped in and I met the lighthouse keep, a guy named Cliff who is at the end of a long and windy road. I couldn’t photograph the lighthouse, we couldn’t even see the sea, let alone the lighthouse. We chatted and had coffee and ate leftover pasta and turkey. Then Alvin was given a frozen willow ptarmigan that killed itself hitting a powerline in he fog. One less for me to see….phewy! It wasn’t alive so I couldn’t count it.
We drove around and saw snowy owls and fog…and snowy owls in the fog
We saw the Code #3 Common Snipe on the way home, well and also on the way there… a couple overwintered here last winter in an area that doesn’t freeze
It was all in Ferryland the first settlement in North America by UK islanders in 1612
These birds are occasionally seen here and also in western Alaska. We spotted two rare and stunning King Eider in rafts of Common Eider, not the bird with yellow orange on nob of bill and blue head
I had just bout given up all hope of seeing a ptarmigan as they only live on the SE part of the island then I got it, #699 Willow Ptarmigan!
I got my nemesis bird finally driving back where we flushed two Willow ptarmigan on a highway, unfortunately we met a car at the exact same spot. This bird my daughter has seen and was very unhappy to hear I had finally had seen one. The bad was I never had chance for a photograph.
Wow, I could even see this lighthouse. It was magical to stand at the easternmost point of North America and photograph the scene…unfortunately, no birds
So after the Parasitic jaeger watch which by the way was through a chain linked fence with 6 other local birders. I tracked down a black headed gull back in the largest lake in St John’s but it was a immature and I didn’t get a picture, and after I looked unsuccessfully for other vagrants. It was then I began to appreciate the city.
I saw a building that on one side was an “Eco-Funky” toy store and on the other, a sex toy shop…..mom and dad go to one side and the kids go to the other? “Flower Child” and “Our Pleasure”? Does the pink and purple have meaning? Were these guys driving back from Woodstock and took a right at Syracuse instead of a left?
I think St. John’s is nude friendly. A couple of blocks south is this nude mermaid
and the crazy legend of Trinitaria, some chocolate topless princess who came to Newfoundland?
I bought some chocolate…It has to be good if made by a chocolate mermaid? There was a Hempware store too….
The sign on the door advertised that you got 15% off if you shaked your booty and 20% if you bared your booty? Again, nude friendly. I’d get it for free because if I was and an shaking my assets as they say, they do anything to get me to leave. IDK about Hempware, luckily they were closed for day, I would ask a local but half of the locals I talked to, I didn’t understand, especially the men. I asked Alvin what they said and ..sigh…he didn’t understand them either.
In the end, I added three birds and was on the brink of 700, one to go, 699 is NOT a very good number to be at and I suppose tomorrow the vagrants will show up…or most likely just more Jaegers. The food was good, the hotel fine. This is an interesting place on the edge of nowhere and it is amazing these people have survived here and maybe even thrived since settled in 1612. I’m not sure I could tolerate living here, though, this makes Sweden and Norway look warm and sunny…England? England is a desert by comparison, the birders here make up for the weather by been warm and hospitable. It is good to see the future of Medicine in the hands of people like Alvan, and he will do well. Many thanks again.
One more to go!